The revolutionary and iconic stance of the great Muhammad Ali rang in my mind this morning as I woke up and thought about writing this column. After a bonanza weekend of American sports that included the NFL Draft, the NBA Playoffs, the Kentucky Derby, the Yankees and Red Sox baseball game, and the Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao fight, all I could think about is downtown Baltimore burning down with reports of 100 Black American men killed by police in the past year, while we still have our first African-American president in office at the White House.
Excuse me for being political in a sports column, but athletes are people first. They come from families with mothers and fathers. They come from communities, cities and towns. They come from fan bases of loyal people who have supported them. But once they make it to the highest professional level of sports, where their voices, wallets and social/political impact becomes the greatest, they are then advised to leave politics alone and keep their personal views private, or else suffer the consequences of repulsion from those American citizens who would rather not hear it.
Typically, in America, the mainstream White community has been the main culprits of wildly supporting athletes, while rejecting where they come from, what they stand for, or what their families and communities are still having to deal with in their lives daily.
“Hey pal, don’t push that stuff on me. I have anything to do with all that. I’m only here to watch the game.”
Nevertheless, American sports leagues have been allowed to support cancer awareness by wearing pink every year, support military veterans who return home to their families from active duty overseas, and a half dozen other mainstream campaigns. But only if the professional sports leagues – controlled by billionaire White men – allow it.
Surely, I understand that to bring certain injustices to light before, during and after every game would be overkill and undesirable, even for me. But these athletes should at least be able to speak about it as they see fit in interviews, particularly when they are often forced to answer questions about the game. Allow them to also address a few questions about what’s going on their lives, in their families and in their communities, if they choose to do so.
But why are so many professional athletes punished for that? Is it to control the social/political impact that they would have? Is it fear of moving the status quo of America into spaces that it still refuses to discuss or transition from? Is it to continue the stereotype that athletes are brainless and physically gifted brutes who are better off seen than heard?
The sports world has now become grossly hypocritical. Do we not now witness these same sports league authorities coming out strongly against domestic violence, abuse of children, cheating through performance enhancing drugs, driving while under the influence, smoking marijuana, and many other societal infractions of its athletes? These stronger league stances and rules of discipline for professional athletes are mainly in play because buying ticketholders now demand it. Millions of supporters will no longer accept such transgressions, and the leagues’ owners are forced to feel it in their bank accounts from negative public relations. However, no such fear happens from the desires and demands of economic freedom, justice, equality and certain protective rights of Black people, who now make up the majority of professional football and basketball players.
So I watched a 20-minute interview on YouTube this morning of Muhammad Ali and “Why I Refuse To Go To Vietnam” on the Malcolm X channel and was blown away by how astutely this uneducated Black man and boxer from poverty in Louisville, Kentucky, could speak about the obvious politics of a Black people, who were being forced to fight a war for America abroad, while not being allowed to fight a war at home to for the safety, education, dreams, aspirations and hope of their people at home in America. You need to watch it too for an historical perspective and update on how America continues to avoid the elephant in the room, even in year 2015.
Muhammad Ali was willing to go to jail and give up everything for a message of defiance and justice for his people, and he surely suffered for it as he quickly became Public Enemy Number #1 of mainstream White America, simply for voicing his honest opinions that were all based on the facts of our country’s treatment to millions of Black people, a people who Muhammad Ali – previously known as Cassius Clay – happened to be an extremely popular and respected member.
Go online and watch the tape and be proud of a man who deserves our respect.
Omar Tyree is a New York Times bestselling author, an NAACP Image Award winner for Outstanding Fiction, and a professional journalist, who has published 27 books, including co-authoring Mayor For Life; The Incredible Story of Marion Barry Jr. View more of his career and work at www.OmarTyree.com.